Last week we looked at two positions that your support (counsellor, group, friends, family, church leadership) might take with you as a betrayed spouse that require challenging. These are: "you're co-dependent" and "it's (fully/partially) your fault".
Today we'll look at a few more scenarios that too often come up for us that indicate our support needs to be challenged (or new support sought out).
You Need to Forgive
While this "solution" for the problems can come up in any setting, it is most likely to come up within church settings... whether that's leadership, a Christian counselor, or just the person in the pew next to you.
To challenge this we can begin by asking the person to clarify what they're thinking and then respond to it. See some examples below:
Are you thinking that if I were to forgive my husband that his addiction would go away? But let's think about that. If you had a drug addict in the family who had stolen money from you, would you expect forgiving them to heal them of their drug addiction? Research shows us that sex addiction has a great deal in common with Class A drug addiction and creates similar kinds of damage in the brain.
Are you saying that my husband's habitual infidelity didn't break our relationship; but rather my reaction, as the main victim of that betrayal has? Actually my reactions are in line with normal trauma reactions. And like all traumatized people I will heal more quickly if my community validates the injustice that was perpetrated on me, rather than participating in blaming me (see Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman for more on this). My husband will also heal better and faster if he is held accountable for his sin. Yes, he needs grace in so far as he has repented, but he and I also need justice.
Do you believe that my anger and other trauma symptoms are due to a lack of forgiveness? Would you tell a woman who was raped in her car at night by a large man, and who is now afraid to be in her car and feels a surge of anger when she sees large men that these symptoms would go away if she would just forgive her rapist? Would you even ever say to a woman who was raped that she needs to forgive? Wouldn't you just trust God to lead that process with her, once she'd gotten some healing from her trauma? Did you know that there are a number of women (see the Beyond Betrayal book for more on this) who have both been raped and have found out about their husband's sex addiction and say that the latter was more traumatic?
This might also be an appropriate time to share your understanding of forgiveness as a process (which takes time), as something that follows full disclosure (so you know what you're forgiving) and grieving, as something that should not be confused with "forgetting," nor as something that is necessarily followed by trusting.
For more on the dangers of rushed forgiveness, see the Beyond Betrayal book.
You Need to Leave/Stay
I regularly hear from women that when friends, family, counselors, etc. hear about the infidelity and, possibly, accompanying abuse (lying, gaslighting, emotional and other violence) they get told, "you have to leave him." While this advice (though it's more of a command at times) often stems out of the support person's love and concern, it is not a sensitive or wise response.
The reality is the decision to leave is one of the hardest a woman may ever make. The implications are absolutely enormous at any stage of life. Moreover, being made to feel she may lose her support/friends if she does not comply with their demands just adds to her pain and anxiety. Finally, this request lacks wisdom because if her husband is truly engaged in recovery he is likely to be a very different person in a year's time... possibly one who is on the way to becoming a mature man and life partner.
That said, I'm also aware of many women who have been similarly wounded by being told "you can't leave, you have to stay." The people who are saying these things are frequently, but not always, unaware of the depth of the abuse she's suffered, the depth of the addiction or the journey she has possibly already been on with him around recovery. One of the worst stories I've heard on this to date is the friend who was told she had to stay with her husband who had offended against her daughter.
I wish I could say the "must stay" camp was equally well meaning as the "must leave" camp, but in reality I've found this group to be more interested in principles than people. I have suspicions that the most vocal, and threatening, men in the "you can't leave" camp (because... "it was porn and that's not adultery," "God hates divorce," "it will destroy the ministry/God's work here") have their own problematic sexual behavior going on in the background. The most vocal women are often the wives of such men—wives who are choosing a disempowered stance for themselves and who feel confronted by women who choose differently.
Some women have had supporters in both camps... and have literally lost some of the support when she didn't immediately take action, and then lost others later when she did leave/file for divorce.
I think this kind of subtle (or not) bullying hurts the heart of God. We need to trust Him to take each woman on her own unique journey (long though it may be) to working through what is best for her, and those who are hers to care for.
Next week I'll post some of the stories women wrote in to share with the community. If you have your own story of "support that needed challenging" you can share it below or email me and I'll share it next week, without using your name.